5 things to watch in Game 1 of the Brooklyn Nets-Atlanta Hawks playoff series. Tipoff at 5:30 P.M. EDT on YES Network and TNT.
1) Brook Lopez v Al Horford. As I said in our Nets-Hawks mega-preview: Lopez is an elite shot creator, Horford is an elite offensive player. Brooklyn’s best hope might hinge on getting Horford to show on pick-and-rolls, and Deron Williams & Joe Johnson finding Lopez in the pocket 15 to 20 times.
Lopez is also the tallest and longest guy in the series, and if he can just lob a few shots over Horford, Millsap, and Mike Muscala, as well as limit Horford and Millsap from grabbing offensive rebounds (Lopez isn’t a great defensive rebounder, but the Hawks grab fewer offensive boards than anyone else in the league, since they send most of their guys back in transition), the Nets might be able to keep it close.
2) The pace. Prior to Game 1, Lionel Hollins stressed the importance of slowing the pace down. “If we execute our offense, the pace will be slow,” Hollins said, citing turnovers turning into fast-break points.
Turnovers have often been a game-changer for the Nets. When they turn the ball over on fewer than 14 percent of their possessions, they’re 29-22; when they go above 14 percent, they’re 9-22.
3) The Williams-Jack dynamic. Deron Williams has had up and down playoff games in Brooklyn, but only one big moment in three postseasons — the two-handed reverse dunk in the Game 1 against the Bulls in 2013. Ever since, it’s been Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce doing the late-game work and making big shots, and this season Jarrett Jack has taken a lion’s share of the crunch-time load. If this game is (somehow) close in the waning moments, who will Hollins trust? Will it be both?
4) Bojan Bogdanovic & Alan Anderson. The big word for Bogdanovic this season has been comfortable. Can he get comfortable with the NBA three-point line? Can he get comfortable with the new basketball? Can he get comfortable with the new defensive schemes? How comfortable is that sweater?
The next bit of comfort for him: Bogdanovic hasn’t been able to hit threes outside of Barclays Center. Here’s his home-road FG%-3P%-FT% shooting splits in his rookie year: .483-.383-.863 at home, .412-.314-.763 on the road. Factor in Atlanta’s stingy defense, and today could be a tough one for Bogdanovic, who’s played starter’s minutes off the bench in recent weeks.
His time could get cut due to Alan Anderson’s return from a sprained ankle. Anderson went through the team walkthrough and didn’t show any ill effects warming up before Sunday’s game. If he can space the floor and defend Kyle Korver around screens off the ball, there’s another dent.
5) The lineups. The Hawks run a ruthless offense that you could set a metronome to. Sometimes the only way to beat teams like this is to just get weird: play guys out of position and force opponents to adjust. Just look at the Nets last year: They put Paul Pierce at power forward[note]The dirty secret, of course, is that Shaun Livingston was a point guard/power forward hybrid on offense. Pierce was their power forward on defense, but the team switched so relentlessly that it was hard to tell.[/note] and confused teams by posting up their wings.
What if the Nets do the same? Put Joe Johnson at power forward, space the floor with Bogdanovic & Anderson, let Williams & Lopez run a spread pick-and-roll, and see what happens. Hey, weirder things have worked before.